The time was coming to start thinking about what I was going to do for Carnaval, the great holiday at the beginning of spring when all of Brazil stops the routine to enjoy the party for 4 days. All the other Americans were eager to go to Rio de Janeiro, where they have a legendary Carnaval, very similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, with little clothing and much alcohol. I wasn’t too keen on this idea, mainly because I didn’t want to show up in Rio with twenty other Americans, running around like an obnoxious tourist in a mob of Americans, wind up speaking English with them the whole time, and on top, to have all the Brazilians that I meet living six hours away in Rio.
My roommate, a Brazilian named Fazzi, had told me about another option… a few hours outside of town there was going to be a little music festival, with only two or three hundred people, where they’d play reggae, rock, and traditional Brazilian folk music… and everybody who was going there was from São Paulo. It wasn’t really “Carnaval” as people think of when they hear the word, with the schools of samba parading down the street, but I didn’t mind at all. Is there some sort of nonsensical rule that says “when one goes to Brazil in the spring, during Carnaval, one must watch the schools of samba as they parade down the street with their scantily clad beauties playing the drums and dancing to the rhythm”? Maybe there is such a rule, but I’d rather not be “one” anyway. So I decided to go out to the woods with two or three hundred Brazilians and hear what sort of noise they make.
The morning we were to leave I woke up early, and Ciro, the neighbor, who was going on the trip with us, knocked on the door a few minutes after I’d had my breakfast and coffee and shower, asking where Fazzi was. “He’s still sleeping man… go ahead and wake him up.” Ciro shook his head, explaining that Fazzi had told him to be ready by 9 and now it was 9:30, and now he was sleeping the day away. After twenty minutes or so, we finally managed to get him out of his bed, and they shot out of the house to buy some things for the trip. Fazzi asked me to stay at the house because the others who were coming on the trip were on the way, and somebody had to let them in, and they both had to buy stuff. “Oh no!” I’m thinking to myself, “I need to buy food before we go.” I can’t eat gluten, so I always have to plan in advance when I’m going someplace for an extended period. But I didn’t say anything, and they headed out. The others arrived, and then Fazzi and Ciro, and I was thinking of going to the grocery store around the corner, but instead I waited, and waited. They took another hour getting ready to leave, and I thought to myself that I could’ve gone to the store and returned 5 times by now. But now it was too late, and we headed off—they said they’d stop at a grocery store so I could buy some things, but we only stopped at a gas station to save time—they didn’t understand the urgency of my situation—and I bought a bunch of peanuts, and three packs of cigarettes so that I’d have plenty to share with others. “Oh well!” I’m thinking to myself, “they’ll have a kitchen there, and I’ll be able to buy things without gluten.”
It took us two hours to get out of São Paulo, because of the traffic, and then another two to get to the festival… as the road left the city we climbed up into the heights of the deep green mountains, with rich forests in the spaces that hadn’t been cleared away for agriculture, and a wavy patchwork of crops covering the rest of the terrain… and the clouds crept low in the sky caressing the tops of the mountains, mixing with the steam rising from the earth to create a smooth silky curtain across the scene. It was beautiful! It reminded me of one morning driving across the U.S. when I’d been pushing through the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, on my way to California, and the fog had reached up into the atmosphere in the same way, under different skies, before different people, but the event was really the same thing… so many people on this planet, all living their own lives.
We got off the highway and onto the final road to the festival, descending out of the mountains and into the foothills… but these were pretty big foothills, and perhaps could even be considered mountains, with their steep slopes and dramatic streams flowing down their crevices. We saw an occasional horse-rider trotting along on the side of the road… many more farms now, the patchwork thickened… we passed by a tractor, slowly chugging along with a crew of 5 workers piled up on every spare space, some of them looking at us as we passed, others sitting with their heads hung under their sombreros, giving their eyes a rest from the sun that had cleared away the clouds over the past 30 minutes, leaving just the sticky steam from the wet earth and the heat from the gleaming sun. We finally arrived in Munhoz, the little town that the festival took its name from—Munhozstock—and it was a lovely little town with cobblestone streets, plenty of old volkswagons, a couple donkeys strapped to carts, every house painted a different brilliant color making a beautiful pallet of the street, and a small church as the focal point of the town, a locale that gathers the community into itself, allowing the unfolding of a common life. I saw an old man leaning against a wall watching a donkey and cart pass by… his head was tilted down, and his face was halfway hidden by his hat, which was a big “cowboy hat” as you think of with the old American West… I wondered what his life was like in this little town in the interior of Brazil—maybe it was similar to life in my hometown back in the hills and farms of upstate NY… but we rolled gently over the cobblestones and headed down the dirt road leading up the hill towards the music festival, nestled among the forest and the farmland, on the top of a hill, overlooking the great green expanse.
On the top was a flat area for tents, with a trampoline that the children jumped on all weekend, but there was no room for our tent there and we headed down the hill to find a place to set up… as we walked down we could look across to the next hill where there were cows slowly making their way across the crest, and a farmer was relaxing on the front porch of his little red house, enjoying a cold beer on a hot summer day, looking over his crops, his cattle, and the maniacs on the hill next to him, setting up a little make-shift community for a few days of a different reality. We saw a couple terraced spaces for tents, but all of the flat areas were taken, so we found a nice grassy spot in between the two terraces, on a slight slope, and set up our tents there… I figured it’s just as well… if it rains the water won’t pool here, and it won’t be muddy like on the terraces, and it’ll be nice to be sleeping on my back on a slight slant, and when I wake up in the morning I can look straight out the door, across the little valley, and see the cattle grazing in the sun on the opposite hill.
After we got our tents set up and we were situated, we started to mingle with the other people around us… I went for a walk down the hill and when I came back the others were all looking in disbelief at the guy who was staying in the tent right next to ours… he was showing them something in his hands, and Fazzi was all agitated, saying to this guy “não cara, não.” [no man, no] He was performing little magic tricks, switching a blue die for a red one when we were looking at the smooth movement of his other hand. Fazzi couldn’t believe his eyes, so he kept saying “não cara…” in an exhausted tone, as though this whole process was too stressful on his psyche…. This guy’s name was Filipe, and he was a real character—always with funny little remarks to push the conversation along in the direction of its previous momentum, not trying to take it over and lead it, but being led by the conversation itself… he had dreadlocks, like many people at any festival with reggae music, and he always carried around a little hip pack with a triangle clipped to it—you know, the percussion instrument. Whenever people started jamming, he was always ready with a subtle little rhythm on his triangle—I always got a kick out of it too—more or less, he always played the same rhythm, but I think it takes a certain type of musician to rock the triangle in such a way—the triangle is just so lacking in pretensions—it doesn’t seek attention, and doesn’t get much, but it does add much to the rhythm.
We headed off to the bar to have a glass of wine before the nights performances. They had built a bunch of buildings in the area with the trees from the land. As you walked down towards the creek and its waterfall you passed a little area where all the trees had been cleared, and all the structures, and stairs down the steep muddy slopes, had been built with those trees, by the hands of the people who lived here. They’d built a bar, a kitchen and dining area, dormitories for a good number of people, and all the buildings with a nice spacious porch where you could look out into nature… into the unfolding of life… at the people milling around… playing music in little corners, in the little spaces between the tents, under the roof with the woodstove beneath… laughing and talking and sharing meals together… and the hum of the insects and the song of the birds mixed with the laughter of the humans, the sound of their music, and the occasional rumbling of a car passing by on the red dirt road, the earth rich with iron like the wilderness of northern Arizona.